Boulder’s Best Little-Known Hiking Trails
We are blessed in Boulder to have so many AMAZING trails.
But after living here 30 years I am always surprised how common it is that we hike the same ol’ crowded trails and miss some of the true seldom-visited gems.
I have organized this list of best overlooked, hidden and secret trails into a number of categories: best challenging ascents (and views), family visit go-to, kids’ favorites, spring stream destinations and more.
At FitLiv we love our trails and often during our outdoor boot camps most Wednesday classes features a Boulder trail for our unique 'stop & go' Fitness in the Foothills workout adventure. Note that you are welcome to experience a Fitness in the Foothills class during our free community 2nd Saturday trail class.
Do you have some favorite hidden, secret or lightly-used hikes you would like to share? Please let us know by leaving a comment below.
Moderate Hidden Gems
Mays Point on Flagstaff Mountain
Moderate 2.6 mile out and back or 2.4 mile loop
Here is a spot that I have yet to find others when I reach this lofty lookout point over the snowy high peaks. The map link below doesn’t even label Mays Point though it does show an unlabeled trail to it (there is a sign though at the actual trail junction).
Park at Realization Point and combine the Range View and Boy Scout trails. Near the western edge of the Boy Scout trail you will see on the map the short unmarked trail that heads off just .2 mile west and ends at Mays Point – a magical jumble of rocks high over Boulder Canyon.
From Mays Point, I like to continue just a short way on the Boy Scout Trail and then scramble up a steep short slope to Artists Point and then return to Realization Point on the Ute Trail.
Realization Point Trailhead Map
Viewpoint Trail to Panorama Point
Moderate 1.8 mile out and back
I like this trail simply because it features views I just don’t get from anywhere else – an interesting perspective into Boulder Canyon and across to the Red Rocks area. Plus I am typically alone aside from maybe a local that lives near the trailhead which is located at the very west end of University Avenue. The destination is Panorama Point which is located off of Flagstaff Road and enjoys sweeping views of the Boulder Valley.
1st/2nd Flatirons Ascent & Vista
Difficult 2.6 mile out and back hike.
This trail was unknown for years but has recently gained popularity but it is one of my favorites and so many people I meet haven’t experienced it yet.
Wondering where the trail is located? Just gaze up at the 1st & 2nd Flatirons and focus on the trees that fill the gap between these rock monoliths. Now picture a trail that zigzags between these Flatirons and then summits right behind the 1st Flatiron with spectacular snow-capped mountain views out west.
If you are fortunate, you will see climbers descending off the 1st Flatiron.
Chautauqua trailhead map
Nice article on the hike
3rd Flatiron – hiking the climbers' descent route
Difficult 3 mile up and back hike.
Another challenging Chautauqua hike that takes you just behind the 3rd Flatiron. Look at the photo above and picture yourself in the trees just to the right and below the 3rd Flatiron summit - can you say AMAZING!
This trail use to be pretty obscure and hard to follow but the last portion of the trail amid a rocky scree slope is much easier now to follow. Views down into Boulder are superb and en route to the final destination you will see where climbers begin their rock climbing ascent of this famed Flatiron. Just come with an adventurous spirit [and your camera]!
The beginning of the 3rd Flatiron route is a junction off of the trail now referred to as the Flatirons Loop trail (basically the trail to the base of the 2nd Flatiron and then beyond). The 3rd Flatiron trail doesn’t show up on online maps but the picture above shows the route (the route to the base of the 3rd Flatiron is in solid red, and the route to the top of the climbers descent route is dashed. Best to stop in at the Chautauqua Rangers Cottage before you start if in doubt of the route.
Best Spring Hikes
(great for visiting family & kids)
Easy 1.1+ mile loop
If you haven’t sauntered through Chautauqua Meadow during the spring and early summer you have missed an amazing display of vibrant wildflowers. Over the last year, the City has recreated the Baseline and Meadow trails that basically parallel Baseline Road and now feature a really smooth flat surface (meaning almost no ruts or rocks). Plus, there is minimal elevation change. Just a 1.1 mile loop from the Chautauqua Rangers Station.
If you want something a little longer and to add some variety, tack on an out and back up Gregory Canyon that enjoys shady trees and a nice spring-running creek.
Chautauqua Area Trails
(another kids favorite right from the trailhead)
Moderate ½ mile – 3.5 mile loop.
Not many trails have running water and waterfalls beside them but during the spring and when the rains are at their peak Gregory Canyon is a gem. Look for side trails that will take you down to the river for a nice picnic and you may even find a small swimming hole.
Many hiking options here as well. You can simply go up and back or combine create a nice 3.5 mile loop combining the Gregory Canyon, Ranger, Greenman & Saddle Rock trails.
Gregory Canyon trailhead map
Bear Creek Canyon
Moderate 7 mile out and back
I love this peaceful canyon filled with interesting rock formations, lush vegetation and a flowing stream. I rarely see anyone along the 2-mile creek section. This South Boulder trail heads west from the Mesa Trail and can be accessed from many different trailheads. I suggest starting at NCAR so you can enjoy some lofty ‘in-your-face’ Flatiron views before dropping down to the Mesa Trail.
Here’s two map references you will need:
NCAR Trailhead & South Mesa/Shanahan Ridge Trailhead
Best Running Trail (and alternate route to Mt Sanitas)
Moderate 4.4 mile out and back or 6 mile loop.
A few years ago a new Boulder trail was constructed to Mt Sanitas, the Lion’s Lair Trail. Lightly used compared to the other Mt Sanitas trails, it is a beautifully built trail with a reasonable constant grade and a very smooth dirt surface. You are generally in the woods and won’t enjoy the views and rock formations of the standard Mt Sanitas Trail but this trail is outstanding for a heart-pumping and peaceful run. For an uphill run, we consider it one of Boulder’s best.
To make a longer loop you can combine with the Mt Sanitas and Sunshine Canyon trails.
Mt Sanitas Trailhead Map